March 10, 2014 9:38:11 AM
The U.S. Army introduced its proposed 2015 budget request last week and it includes a $245.4 million increase in funding for UH-72 Lakota helicopters that are made in Columbus.
The request from Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is for a total of $416.6 million to purchase 55 of the aircraft next year, which is up from $171.2 million for 20 aircraft requested for this year, according to a Virginian-Pilot report.
Defense News reports that the helicopters made by Airbus Helicopters (formerly known as American Eurocopter) will replace the TH-67 JetRanger training aircraft used at Fort Rucker, Ala. The Army plans on retiring the JetRanger.
Overall, the Army's budget request is down $4.5 billion from the $125 billion it received this year, according to the Department of Defense. Airbus has delivered 296 helicopters to the Army.
The Dothan (Ala.) Eagle reports that opinions of service members are "mixed" on whether the change-up from the JetRanger to the Lakota would be an upgrade and whether there would be a cost savings. The Lakota is a twin-engine aircraft, while the JetRanger is a single. The change would likely result in a change of simulators and that maintenance contracts for the aircraft would require negotiations.
The budget request also includes a 1 percent pay increase for soldiers as well as a basic allowance for housing increase of 1.5 percent and 3.4 percent for subsistence, according to the Army News Service.
Last May, hundreds of local American Eurocopter employees held a rally to call on Congress to reconsider spending cuts that would slash production of the Lakota. The budget that passed earlier this year gave the Department of Defense funding for 20.
Last week, Airbus Helicopter's President Guillaume Faury announced the company will begin producing AS350 AStar helicopters in Columbus beginning in September. The aircraft is the best-selling civil and commercial helicopter in the country, according to the company.
Airbus' Columbus plant currently employs 280 people.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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